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Poker at the Bridge Table
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The card games of poker and bridge have a lot in common, probably more than most people realize. I am better known as a poker player than bridge player (I just came out with a new poker book, my sixth: No-Limit Holdem Poker). However, for sheer pleasure, I prefer bridge. Among other things, it allows me to spend more time with the peaceful sex than does poker.

I especially enjoy putting my poker skills to work at the bridge table. I think my poker experience has improved my bridge skills in several respects. Poker encourages me to play my opponent, helps me in reading people, and makes me more aware of bluffing situations in both bidding and play. I believe it also prepares me to think outside of the box. Let me show you a great example of what I mean.

This hand is taken from a two-session IMP team event at the October 2012 Motor City Regional. My opponents were two good friends, who are well aware of my poker background. LHO was Danny Marcus, a highly experienced player, and RHO was Lynne Schaeffer, one of the Detroit area’s leading players. My partner was Joanne Mosca, who returned to bridge about three years ago after a lengthy layoff where she raised six children.

I have not seen another hand quite like this one in my bridge career of over a half-century. I am presenting it as a declarer play problem.

I was the declarer in a contract of 5 after a spirited auction. The bidding may not be totally proper, but it certainly led to an extremely interesting contract. (The opponents with our cards at the other table played in a mundane 4, making four.)

At unfavorable vulnerability, I held:

South
A1086
KJ954
Q732

LHO opened 1, partner doubled, and RHO raised to 2. I thought the cue-bid more flexible than the jump to 4, so I bid 3.

The bidding then continued:

South
A1086
KJ954
Q732
W
N
E
S
1
X
2
3
3
P
4
4
P
P
5
?

My friend and bridge mentor Fred Hamilton has told me to usually take the push at IMPs when holding a void, so I chose to bid 5. All passed, and this was the dummy:

North
K742
Q42
Q10763
A
South
A1086
KJ954
Q732
W
N
E
S
1
X
2
3
3
P
4
4
P
P
5
5
P
P
P

The opening lead was the A, obviously a singleton. I played low, East played the 8, and I played the 4. West shifted to the 3, I played low, East played the ace, and I ruffed with the 6.

How should the hand now be played? Try to find the right idea here.

Hint: assume the spades split 3-2 despite the bidding, as otherwise you have no play.

I took a fair amount of time studying this position. I needed to ruff two more hearts in my hand, but would not be able to draw trump if I played a club to the ace, ruffed a heart, ruffed a club in dummy, ruffed another heart, and cashed the trump ace, because getting to the dummy would eat up another trump, causing me to lose control of the hand. If I only had another entry to dummy…

Finally, the light dawned. If I led a diamond and West ruffed from an original 3-card trump holding, no matter what he exited, I would simply be able to draw the last trump after ruffing a second club in the dummy, and then cash all my diamonds. If West ducked, he was giving me that vital third entry to the board that I needed. Of course, if West for some reason did not ruff my diamond, it would not matter who had the third trump: I would be home. So I led a low diamond toward the dummy…

Now try to look at matters through West’s eyes, who actually held the J-5 doubleton of trumps. What in the world was declarer doing leading a diamond, knowing that he could ruff? His partner must hold the Kfor declarer’s play to make any sense at all. He was worried that if he ruffed, I would be able to cash the K and pick up the trump suit by finessing his partner (which was actually the case, though declarer would not be able to make his contract with this line of play). So he decided to let his partner win the Kfirst, and then set the contract by ruffing when partner played another diamond for him. He was quite surprised when the 10 held in dummy. Partner followed with her last diamond, the 2, and did not look pleased.

The rest of the hand I was able to play quickly. I ruffed a heart, went to the A, ruffed another heart, cashed my A, ruffed a club, cashed dummy’s K. All I had left now was a low trump and good diamonds, so I faced my hand and said “running the diamonds,” claiming all the rest of the tricks except for the master trump, making my contract. I was rewarded for my pleasing achievement by our side winning an IMP on the board.

Although I was lucky to make the hand with the actual layout, I view the result as a deserved serendipity for my playing the hand correctly. I have given this hand as a declarer problem to more than a half-dozen good bridge players, and none of them played a diamond at trick 3, so they all went down a trick without any saving chance.

West
J5
KJ1083
A
K10985
North
K742
Q42
Q10763
A
East
Q93
A9765
82
J64
South
A1086
KJ954
Q732
W
N
E
S
1
X
2
3
3
P
4
4
P
P
5
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

When playing a suit contract, would you play a card in your 10-card side suit when a round of that suit had already been played and the only outstanding card left for the opponents was the 2? Have you ever seen a bridge hand with this layout and theme as the only way to make the hand? I have never seen anything like it in my life.

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